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EnvEXPO: Thoughts and Perspectives | Seth Thomas

2015 marked the inaugural year of the envEXPO. Constituting three events spread over three days, envEXPO aimed to bring together academics, businesses, policy makers and more in attempts generate impact through collaboration and sharing of knowledge. envEXPO was co-sponsored by the EnvEast Doctoral Training Partnership - a NERC funded DTP - as well as The Marine Knowledge Exchange Network, or MKEN - a NERC impact accelerated funded organisation.


envEXPO was divided into three separate events. Firstly, came the envEAST Showcase, a demonstration of the research conducted by envEAST DTP students, UEA academics and partner institutions such as The British Antarctic Survey and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. These research talks were divided into three themes, coinciding with the overarching themes of the envEAST DTP, Environmental Data, Natural Capital and Risk From Natural Hazards.


The envEAST Showcase was followed by MKEN Big Data, bringing together further delegates to discuss open source and large data resources. Currently, there a massive amounts of marine data being stockpiled. Recent estimates from The European Marine Observation Network suggest that EU spending on observational data is > 1billion euros. That’s huge masses of data that has scientific potential. However, this hoarded data can only generate impact in science if it is interpretable and accessible. Currently, large disparity between budgets for data collection and bringing data together exists, with heavy weighting to the former. One aim of MKEN Big Data was to discuss the way forward with data sharing and data access. Open marine data creates innovation, breeds opportunity and stimulates economic growth.


”There is large disparity between budgets of data collection and bringing data together, with heavy weighting to data collection.” - Iain Shepherd, EMODnet European Commission

The final event of envEXPO was again organised by MKEN, under the name of MKEN Futures. Here, the future of marine science collaboration was discussed. MKEN aimed to provide a platform for innovative, collaborative solutions to policy, environmental and commercial needs once again combining delegates from all walks of life. Three parallel sessions were run, covering ‘Observational Technology & Surveillance’, ‘Coastal & Marine Risk’ and ‘Ecosystem Services & Ocean Processes’.


Innovation


When I was asked to write this blog post I assumed that I would be writing a detailed account of the event. Well as interesting as the event was, a minute by minute write up would not make for good reading. Thankfully, since attending envEXPO, my thinking has changed allowing the creation of something I hope to be a little more readable.

Currently, innovation lies on the tip of scientist’s, funding bodies and government tongues more than ever. In fact, one envEXPO delegate stressed the paramount importance of innovation as ”In business, you innovate, or you die”. In my eyes, it was a term that’s thrown around board meetings with a plethora of other buzzwords like synergy and dynamism. As such - for me anyway - the term innovation didn’t mean a lot, and therefore I had personal doubts about the relevance of a three day event with innovation at it’s core. I suppose that I had been putting innovation on a pedestal, intertwining it with complexity and assuming it’s achievability were for minds greater than my own.


I sit here typing as a changed scientist. envEXPO has opened my eyes to the simplicity of innovation as a concept. Because, in truth, innovation is not so complex. Innovation is not some grand advancement, it’s not a quantum leap into the future of technology. Innovation is simply doing something new or different. It’s not just a buzzword, it is the driving force behind human advancement, in a societal context not just scientifically.

To sum it up, I would borrow the words of Gregory Darling, chairman of the Gardline group and one of the keynote speakers at the MKEN Futures event:


”Innovation is doing something new or different, from moving from working one shift to two or development of a new method. New business doesn’t run on old ideas.” - Gregory Darling, Gardline Marine Sciences

Taking this into account, this blogpost will be something a little more innovative than just an account of envEXPO. I hope to draw together some thoughts from the event, some take home messages rather than a blow by blow regurgitation of three intense days.


Thoughts and Perspectives


To achieve impact as a sole entity is not easy, in any field let alone academia. By bringing together industry, policy makers and scientists, to address issues head on, achieving impactive science is made much easier. There has been a mindset within science for too long: do research, publish, build trust with outside parties and then create impact. Well in the opinion of another guest speaker, Steve Dorling of Weatherquest, the first two steps of that process can be bypassed. By working together, collaborating in close quarters with local industry and politicians, trust can be built along side quality research, shortening the journey from start to impact.

This collaboration processes, should be limitless and without boundary. It should not be an exclusive club between science, business and government. So called ’Citizen Science’ is beginning to take shape, and is an invaluable resource to scientists, business and government alike.


”There is a whole world of incredibly useful citizen science that is available at low cost to industry and is ready to use” - Stuart Rogers, CEFAS

The age of citizen science is now. Millions, even billions of people walk around everyday with a smartphone in their pocket. This is a huge driving force for citizen science, with recent smartphone capture footage of a high altitude landslide by skiers generating increased understanding of landslide physics. A discovery such as this may not have happened if it weren’t for public data capture. Despite envEXPO’s best intentions, meaningful collaboration and innovation is unfortunately not straightforward. Resistance by industry has been evident since 1888, just one week after the opening of the prestigious Marine Biological Association. I do believe however, that with more events like envEXPO, meaningful collaboration can be achieved. There have already been impressive results of this relatively small scale event. At a recent MKEN event, scientists from The University of East Anglia and graphic designers from Norwich University of the Arts and the MADE Agency came together to impressive result. Given just twelve hours to produce an infographic, the marvel of collaboration was evident. Fantastic work was produced, communicating complex science in beautifully simplistic terms. This event set the standard of collaboration and innovation, and if it can be continued the results could be remarkable. In addition to this, members of the envEAST DTPs innovation club (E3i) unveiled an animation describing envEAST which was created in conjunction with the Curveball Media.


The need for collaboration is paramount, particularly with the current rate of advancements in technology. Some of this technology was on display at envEXPO, with open source ROVs capable of multi-disciplinary research, and satellites capable of counting whales from space being discussed. Where such advancements may mark the demise of the field ecologist, they mark the age of quick and simple mass data collection. With more data to use, there is more data to share, there is more impact to be achieved. These machines are capable of collecting vast quantities of data, so collaboration during operation could have truly impactive results. Perhaps the take home message from envEXPO is not one of innovation, nor collaboration, not even education, but communication. Without discussion, the most basic form of knowledge exchange, further advancement would not be possible. The links made at envEXPO, the first event of its kind, may prove very fruitful indeed. As an attendee, I’m of the view that the future is bright, that innovation, collaboration and most importantly communication have started as they mean to go on, successfully. envEXPO aimed to bring together academics, stakeholders and the local creative community to work together to generate impact. The board is now set, the pieces are in motion and I for one, can not wait to begin to see inevitable results.




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